, , ,

Once a favorite of corporate actors, BlackBerry phones and mobile devices were essentially run out of the market by the iPhone. Rather than fade away though, BlackBerry decided to pivot and emphasize an element that had long been a source of its competitive advantage: its stellar experience and understanding of how to keep data and devices secure.

Now generally described as an enterprise tech firm, BlackBerry develops and sells software to make technology applications safer. Its QNX software ensures safety standards for self-driving cars and has been adopted in approximately 150 million vehicles. Similarly, its Spark software provides precautions installed into Internet of Things–connected devices in people’s homes and offices.

Another innovation is the BlackBerry Enterprise Service, which helps companies track where employees’ company-provided phones are. The motivation for developing this software emerged from research that the company did, in which it learned that the biggest risk to data security, according to many executives, is not some nefarious hacker. Rather, it’s careless employees who leave their company-provided phones in a restaurant or taxi, as well as impatient ones who disable security safeguards on their devices (e.g., passwords) so that they can access them faster. Such human errors, even if unintentional and innocent, can risk the loss of massive amounts of sensitive, valuable data.

In recognizing this need, BlackBerry not only developed the software but also turned to an unusual source for inspiration on how to market it: improv comedians. That is, the new product is highly technical and sophisticated, because it aims to create multiple layers of advanced cybersecurity. But it also was designed to protect against the sort of bumbling errors that everyday people make all the time, and often find funny after enough time has passed. So why not invite comedians to discuss ways to make the offering more appealing? By gathering input from improv comedians, trained specifically in dealing with the unexpected, the company devised a campaign that both humanizes and simplifies the problem. Leaving a company phone in a taxi is something that pretty much anyone can understand, and so BlackBerry helps potential users comprehend the risk, as well as highlighting how its products can help them minimize the damage.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is humor an effective way to communicate sophisticated ideas like cybersecurity threats and solutions?
  2. What enabled BlackBerry to survive, even after its initial offering fell out of favor in consumer markets? How did it do so?

Source: Marty Swant, “How BlackBerry Used Improv Comedy to Make Cybersecurity a More ‘Human’ Topic,” Fortune, October 18, 2019; Leo Sun, “A New Chapter Begins for BlackBerry as its Turnaround Bears Fruit,” The Motley Fool, April 2, 2019